The 30 Jewish congregations and fellowships in the Valley are poised for throngs of active and unaffiliated Jews who will gather on their campuses or rented spaces Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday for Rosh Hashana and the start of year 5769 in the Jewish calendar.
The Jewish New Year and High Holidays culminate with their holiest day, Yom Kippur, which ends with a breaking of a fast in the late afternoon of Oct. 9, the Day of Atonement. It's a time, especially, when even inactive Jews make their way to a temple to reconnect with the ancient religion of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The ram's horn, or shofar, will squawk with measured blasts as rabbis deliver the unsettling, primal sounds of the Jews' ancient heritage. The cacophony and dissonant sounds have been considered a wake-up call for Jews to face their sins of the past year, repent and begin again. For Jews, their "book of life" is symbolically opened so they can examine their past actions and deeds - both good and bad. Through the 10 days of reflection, Jews will again observe ancient traditions. Some will follow their rabbis, on the second day of Rosh Hashana, to a body of water, for tashlich, where they will toss bread crumbs as if they were casting their sins onto the water and can start anew.
"On Rosh Hashana, we don't do any work, as defined by the Torah," said Rabbi Mendy Lipskier of the Chabad of the East Valley in Chandler. When his congregation walks down Chandler Boulevard en route to Desert Breeze Park to tashlich, they are dressed in "holiday finery, leading toddlers by the hand," and they attract wide curiosity from drivers and passengers.
"People sometimes stop to ask us who we are and what we're doing, walking all together," he said. Children yell from car windows, and cars stop at corners to let everyone pass together. "It gives onlookers a good feeling," the rabbi said.
At a pond at the park, they recite formal prayers and cast out their crumbs. Some then go to hospitals to visit Jewish patients.
"The good feeling generated by the walk, the pride and sense of unity, is just so infectious that we can't help but share it with others," Lipskier said.
The High Holidays are a 10-day span on the moon-based Hebrew calendar. Thus, they change from year to year on the secular calendar.
They carry on many traditions, including lighting candles for deceased ancestors, all-out Jewish cooking for festive meals, and the practice of dipping apples in honey to represent the sweetness of the new year and the eating of braided loaves of challah, a reminder of the manna that is said to have fallen from heaven as the Israelites wandered in the desert.
At Temple Beth Sholom in Chandler, Rabbi Bryan Bramly intends a Rosh Hashana message talking about loving others as oneself and "really reaching out and making a difference by giving of oneself to change reality around us by caring for those, even before they ask for help." He will call on Jews to have greater awareness of each other and the wider community and "doing God's work as partners of God by turning a noun (work) into a verb" of action.
Bramly said his Conservative Jewish congregation will hear his call to a life of commitment and balance. "Really, it is a stopping and smelling the flowers," he said, noting that too often people are immersed in activities that "no one is going to remember." He will call the congregation to "break free of the shackles of routine to find the godly connection, from the simple, mundane things in life."
Because of space limits on some temples, some congregation have rented larger sites. For example, Temple Emanuel of Tempe is again using a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints facility. Or Adam Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, which now meets in a Jewish grade school in Scottsdale, has rented the Mesa Convention Center for some of its services. Temples typically charge a fee to attend High Holidays services, with higher fees for those who are not members of their congregations.
The oldest American female rabbi, Leah Novick, will take part in High Holidays activities at Ruach Hamidbar - Spirit of the Desert, whose congregation will gather at the Temple Kol Ami sanctuary, 15030 N. 64th St., Phoenix. The 75-year-old kabbalah practitioner, ordained in 1987, will speak at the 7 p.m. services the first night of Rosh Hashana on Monday, the 9:30 a.m. services Tuesday and at the Rosh Hashana outing to Saguaro Lake for tashlich trip on the Desert Belle boat at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. A Jewish mystic and theologian, she will also sign copies of her new book, "On the Wings of Shekhinah - Rediscovering Judaism's Divine Feminine." She has been honored for "pioneering work in bringing the feminine into contemporary Jewish," said Rabbi Ayla Grafstein, spiritual leader of Ruach Hamidbar.
In preparation for the holidays, children attending the school of Congregation Or Chadash of the Northeast Valley in Scottsdale have participated in the national program Project Forgiveness.
"Kids are given blank cards and are asked to design the cards however they like with some things that they need to ask forgiveness for," said Rabbi Robin Damsky. Some used magazine pictures to make collages, or simply penned their thoughts about forgiveness.
"One wrote, 'I am sorry for yelling at my brother' or 'I am sorry for crawling into my mom and dad's bed when they wanted me to stay in my own bed,' " Damsky said. "It is neat that, even at a young age, they can grasp that there are things that we all do that we could do better or things that we do either intentionally or unintentionally that hurt other people." A collection of the "sorries" can be found at www.projectforgiveness.com.